s"Welcome to Memorial Stadium. The old girl is back in town! Yes, it's been since December of 1983 that a Baltimore team has played pro fooball here." Those were the words uttered by Ravens announcers when the team first came to Baltimore in 1996. Moving from Cleveland, Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome was the team GM, and explained the team move to NFL Films: "We were a new team that didn't have any type of identity. We needed to instill football in a town that had not had football in 13 years." The Ravens started their franchise on the right foot. In the 1996 NFL Draft, the hot commodity was running back Lawrence Phillips, the Nebraska running back. Newsome and scouting director Scott Pioli instead drafted UCLA left tackle Jonathan Ogden. But the Ravens weren't done. In the first round, there were many linebackers selected, including John Mobley, Kevin Hardy, Duane Clemons, and Reggie Brown. The last linebacker drafted in the first round was Miami linebacker Ray Lewis, who the Ravens drafted with the 26th overall pick.
Thirteen years later, the Ravens draft class appears to be a stroke of genius. The team got two steals in Ogden and Lewis, and were smart enough to pass on Lawrene Phillips. Ogden made 11 Pro Bowls during his 12 year career, and Phillips has had several run-ins with the law. While the linebackers selected before Lewis made a combined one Pro Bowl, Lewis has made a Pro Bowl a whopping ten times, is a sure fire Hall of Famer, and is one of the best linebackers in NFL history.
That draft class didn't immediately make the Ravens, however. In 1996, 1997, and 1998, the team went a combined 16-31-1. The Ravens had a dominant offense, but their defense wasn't nearly as successful. Because of the lackluster record, the Ravens decided to let head coach Ted Marchibroda walk, and searched for the second head coach in franchise history. That's when the team hired Brian Billick for the head coaching job. Billick guided the Ravens to an 8-8 season in 1999 as a rookie. Despite missing the playoffs, they were clearly a team on the rise. QB Tony Banks had an effective year, throwing for 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. In addition to that, the Ravens defense rose from 26th in 1996 to sixth in 1999.
In the 2000 draft, the Ravens felt the need to add some offensive firepower, picking Tennessee running back Jamal Lewis and Florida wide receiver Travis Taylor with the first two picks. The Ravens went into the 2000 season very optimistic. They had a young, talented defense, a powerful running back in Lewis, and a gamebreaking receiver in Taylor. The Ravens started off matters in the 2000 season very well.
Week 1 - Ravens 16, Steelers 0: The Ravens showcased their dominant defense early. Steelers quarterback Kent Graham was a measly 17-of-38 with 199 yards, no touchdowns, and no interceptions. Baltimore set the tone defensively, as the Steelers ran the ball 18 times for just 30 yards. While the Ravens offense wasn't dominant, Tony Banks was effective, passing for 199 yards and a touchdown. Halfback Priest Holmes was solid, gaining 119 yards on 27 carries. Even Steelers offensive tackle Marvel Smith raved about Baltimore's stingy defense, saying: "That was my first game, but they're pretty much the best the NFL has to offer."
Week 2 - Ravens 39, Jaguars 36: After a dominating defensive performance in Week 1, the Ravens stingy defense was disappointing in a 39-36 win over Jacksonville. Jags receiver Jimmy Smith had a phenomenal game, catching 15 passes for 291 yards and scoring three touchdowns. However, Ravens quarterback Tony Banks threw five touchdown passes, two to rookie Travis Taylor. The Ravens couldn't stop the Jaguars powerful aerial attack, but completely halted their running game, as they ran for just 46 yards on 21 attempts. With a tad over a minute left, Tony Banks' touchdown pass to Shannon Sharpe won the game. Sharpe explained: "We had it a couple times, but for whatever reason, Tony isn't comfortable throwing over the middle. I looked at Tony all the way out of the huddle."
Week 3 - Dolphins 19, Ravens 6: After an uplifting win over the Jaguars in which the offense stepped up big time, you'd expect the Ravens to come up even bigger against Miami. However, the Dolphins dominated Baltimore, sacking Tony Banks six times in a 19-6 win. Dolphins running back Lamar Smith had a solid game, gaining 63 yards and a touchdown on the ground and 47 yards and another score through the air. Billick didn't make excuses for the game, saying: "Every aspect of the game, they physically beat us. It's not about schemes, it's not about coming off an emotionally big win."
Week 4 - Ravens 37, Bengals 0: Judging by the postgame comments by Billick after the Week 3 loss, you can guess Billick had something to say to his players throughout the week. It worked. In a 37-0 win over the Bengals, the Ravens were firing on all cylinders. Bengals quarterback Scott Mitchell was 14-of-23, but had just 97 yards and two interceptions. Again, the Ravens defense was solid, as the Bengals had FOUR yards on the ground. Meanwhile, Tony Banks led the Ravens offense, throwing for 196 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie running back Jamal Lewis had a great day, gaining 116 yards.
Week 5 - Ravens 12, Browns 0: For the third time in five games, the Ravens shut out their opponent. This time, the Browns were victim to a hungry Baltimore defense. Famous draft bust Tim Couch threw for 203 yards and three interceptions, Cleveland had 23 rushing yards, and the dangerous duo of Priest Holmes and Jamal Lewis ran for a total of 176 yards. While the Ravens didn't even score a touchdown, they were able to move the ball well and settle for four field goals. Defensive end Michael McCrary sounded excited, but realistic: "I'm not going to print Super Bowl tickets yet, but so far, so good."
Week 6 - Ravens 15, Jaguars 10: Despite going into the game 4-1 and the Jaguars 2-3, the Ravens knew they were in for a challenge. After all, it took a game winning touchdown pass to retire the Jaguars in Week 2. The Ravens adjusted to the Jags offensive attack incredibly well, as after gaining 291 yards in the initial matchup, Jimmy Smith didn't even cross the 100-yard plateau in Week 6. The Ravens grounded the Jaguars ground game, as they averaged just 3.8 yards per carry, and quarterback Mark Brunnell didn't even throw a touchdown pass. For the second straight week, the Ravens didn't score a touchdown.
Week 7 - Redskins 10, Ravens 3: Despite another solid defensive performance, the Ravens lack of offensive firepower hurt them, as Tony Banks threw a costly interception near the end of the first half. Redskins running back Stephen Davis was effective, running 21 times for 91 yards, and even Skins quarterback Brad Johnson was 18-of-27. The Redskins scored just ten points, but it was enough. When asked why Banks was starting, Billick said he was the man for the job, explaining: "Because he's the starting quarterback, we're a 5-2 team, and that's the guy who gives us the best chance to win." However, it was clear that if Banks didn't put together a touchdown - something he hadn't done in three games - he'd soon find himself on the bench.
Week 8 - Titans 14, Ravens 6: The end zone just wasn't the place to be for the Ravens. Tony Banks again didn't throw a touchdown pass. In fact, he had zero touchdown passes and three interceptions. After sticking up for Banks a week later, Billick pulled Banks, and put free agent signee Trent Dilfer in. Dilfer was 7-of-13 with 58 yards and an interception in limited time. In the fourth quarter, Dilfer was close to scoring that much-awaited touchdown, hitting Qadry Ismail with a 33-yard pass in the end zone. However, he was ruled out of bounds.
Week 9 - Steelers 9, Ravens 6: In his first game as a starter, Trent Dilfer was innefective, going 12-of-25 with 153 yards, and one interception. For the FIFTH straight week, the Ravens failed to reach the end zone. As Baltimore Sun writer Ken Murray put it: "Playoffs? The Ravens would be ecstatic to reach the end zone these days." The Ravens had a very small chance to make the playoffs, and it was shrinking every day with lack of offense. Even tight end Shannon Sharpe was apologetic: "I wish I was a billionaire so I could give these fans their money back."
Week 10 - Ravens 27, Bengals 7: Trent Dilfer appeared to be a great replacement for Banks judging by his Week 10 performance, when he threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns. Not only did the Ravens just win the game and move to 6-4, they had a lot more confidence. The defense had more motivation to go out and shut teams down knowing that the offense can very well score touchdowns. In fact, it can even score three. Also, the offense received a great boost knowing they had potential.
Week 11 - Ravens 24, Titans 23: After five straight weeks of staying away from the end zone, the Ravens seemed to have found some comfort offensively. Trent Dilfer found two "security blankets" in tight end Shannon Sharpe and wide receiver Qadry Ismail. Dilfer threw one bonehead interception to Titans defensive back Perry Phenix, whch made the score 23-17 Titans. However, he came back to drive the Ravens and cap the drive with a two yard touchdown pass to Patrick Johnson for a win.
Week 12 - Ravens 27, Cowboys 0: At 7-4, the Ravens were certainly in the playoff hunt. They would have to build off two straight good games on both sides of the ball and take advantage of a struggling Cowboy team. The Ravens picked legendary quarterback Troy Aikman to pieces, as he threw for a mere 138 yards and three interceptions. Like they had all season long, the Ravens stuffed their opponents ground attack, as Dallas ran for just 55 yards, Trent Dilfer wasn't fantastic, but did throw for two touchdown passes in a third consecutive win.
Week 13 - Ravens 44, Browns 7: Weeks ago, the Ravens were struggling to find the end zone. But in a Week 13 matchup against Cleveland, the Ravens couldn't stay away from it, winning 44-7. Rookie Jamal Lewis ran for 170 yards and scoring twice. The Ravens were beginning to establish themselves as a team who could run the ball effectively. The Ravens weren't a team that could come out firing deep passes, as Dilfer didn't have the arm or the weapons, but they sure could run the ball with success.
Week 15 - Ravens 24, Chargers 3: After a bye in Week 14, the Ravens would need to recapture the glory they were having on both sides of the ball against the Chargers. It wouldn't be tough, as they were facing the biggest bust in NFL history. The bust, Ryan Leaf, as expected, struggled against the Ravens, gaining just 78 yards on 9-of-23 passing. Jamal Lewis ran the ball well for Baltimore, gaining 91 yards. The Chargers also fumbled five times, and gained an anemic 128 yards of offense. It was a sad display by the Chargers, but also a dominant one by the Ravens.
Week 16 - Ravens 13, Cardinals 7: After the horrendous touchdown skid, the Ravens were the hottest team in the NFL, as they had won five in a row. Going into Arizona would be no easy test. While the Cards were just 3-11, they had some offensive stars, like quarterback Jake Plummer, running back Thomas Jones, and wide receiver David Boston. The Ravens dominated the Cards. Jake Plummer was intercepted twice, Ravens tailback Jamal Lewis ran the ball 29 times for 126 times, and a Ravens team who had never won more than nine games was going into a Week 17 matchup against the Jets with an 11-4 record.
Week 17 - Ravens 34, Jets 20: The Ravens ended the regular season ona good note. After Jets quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw for two first quarter touchdown passes to make it 14-0 New York early, the Ravens staged a furious rally in the second quarter. It started when Dilfer threw a touchdown pass to Richie Anderson, making it 14-7. That gave the Ravens great confidence, and after a field goal and a safety, it was just 14-12 Jets. Vinny Testaverde threw the ball 69 times, but had just two touchdowns and three interceptions, and the Ravens finished the season 12-4.
AFC Wild Card Weekend - Ravens 21, Broncos 3: In 1977, the Baltimore Colts won a playoff game. It was the last playoff win the city of Baltimore enjoyed. That's until 2000, when the Ravens dominated the Broncos in the Wild Card Round, 21-3. The Broncos totaled a mere 177 yards, led by quarterback Gus Frerotte, who was 13-of-28 with 124 yards and an interception. Trent Dilfer was effective, going 9-of-14 with 130 yards and a touchdown. Jamal Lewis had an admirable playoff debut, running for 110 yards and two touchdowns. On to Tennessee we march!
AFC Divisional Playoffs - Ravens 24, Titans 10: In 2000, the Tennessee Titans had the second best defensive in football, ranking behind only the Ravens. But, unlike the Ravens, the Titans had a dangerous offensive atack. Quarterback Steve McNair had an off year in 2000, but could do damage with his arm and legs. In addition to that, running back Eddie George ran for 1,509 yards and 14 touchdowns that year. However, as they had all year, the Ravens shut them down. An early touchdown run by George was about all the Titans could muster. A "pick-six" by Ray Lewis late in the game sealed it.
AFC Championship - Ravens 16, Raiders 3: The Raiders were going into the AFC Championship against the Ravens not willing to run. The Ravens exhibited all year an unbelievable ability to stop the run. Rich Gannon and the Raiders wanted to establish a successful passing game. Nice try. Gannon was 11-of-21 with 80 yards and two interceptions. Tony Siragusa knew defense wins championships, but loved the nucleus the Ravens had, remarking: "But you can't count our offense out. They made big plays today."
Super Bowl - Ravens 34, Giants 7: Shockingly enough, the Ravens allowed just one touchdown in a 34-7 Super Bowl XXXV victory over Jim Fassel's Giants, who beat the Vikings in the NFC Championship, 41-0. Ray Lewis had a phenomenal game, winning Super Bowl MVP. Star Giants running back Tiki Barber, who ran for 1,006 yards during the regular season, totaled 49 yards on the ground. The Ravens gave Kerry Collins nightmares, as he was 15-of-39 with four interceptions. In fact, the Giants only touchdown was on a 97-yard kick return by Ron Dixon.
It was definitely a year of defense. LB Ray Lewis had a phenomenal year, racking up 137 tackles and three sacks. Fans today call Trent Dilfer the most undeserving Super Bowl winning quarterback in NFL history. They're probably right. However, I doubt Dilfer would trade a ring for public acceptance. Would you?